12 March 2018

Discover the Commonwealth military story in a new exhibition

To mark Commonwealth Day (12 March), the Commission has announced it is staging a new exhibition to open at Brookwood Military Cemetery next month.

 Brookwood: The Commonwealth Story exhibition at Brookwood Military Cemetery

Brookwood: The Commonwealth Story, provides a fascinating insight into the contribution of communities from around the world, who served and lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars.

With more than 5,000 Commonwealth war graves, Brookwood Military Cemetery is the largest CWGC Cemetery in the UK and is the final resting place for service personnel from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK and Ireland.

One of the stories explored in the exhibition is of Pilot Officer George John Drake, who travelled to England to join the Royal Air Force (RAF) in June 1939 after being rejected from the South African Air Force. Piloting a Hurricane fighter plane, he participated in operations over Norway and in the Battle of Britain. On the 9 September 1940, he was shot down over the South Coast of England by a German ME109. He was 20 years old.

It wasn’t until 1972 that George’s remains were discovered in Kent and he was transferred to Brookwood to be given a funeral with full military honors, which his brother Arthur and Eric travelled from South Africa to attend. The inscription on his grave simply reads, Always Remembered.

Ensign Violette Szabo was only 23 when she died. A member of the Special Operations Executive, she was posted to France where after helping her comrades escape she was captured by the Germans. Despite suffering horrific torture, she refused to divulge any information and was sent to Ravensbrück – a concentration camp exclusively for women based in Northern Germany.

She remained there until January 1945 when, with allied forces approaching, she was executed and her body burnt. She was posthumously awarded a George Cross (GC) for her courage and is commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial. She left a four year old daughter.

Others commemorated at Brookwood did not die directly in action but are commemorated for their service and contribution, such as Canadian Nurse Sister Sarah Ellen Garbutt. Born in Yorkshire but raised in Ontario, Canada, Sarah came to the UK in 1917 as part of the Canadian Army Nursing Service. Within her first month she was diagnosed with abdominal cancer and died shortly after, aged 41.

Julian Evans, CWGC’s Director of International and Community Engagement, said: “As we celebrate Commonwealth Day and look forward to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the UK in April, we felt it was important to recognise the contributions of those from across the Commonwealth. The two world wars saw the coming together of a global community fighting with a common purpose. We care for and commemorate those who made the ultimate sacrifice and were unable to return home to their loved ones."

Glyn Prysor, CWGC’s Chief Historian, said: “Brookwood Military Cemetery perfectly encapsulates the contribution of people from across the Commonwealth in the world wars. Behind every headstone is a life, and we’re proud to showcase some of these stories of courage, fortitude and heartbreak."

The exhibition opens on 9 April 2018 and is housed in the Canadian Records Building at Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey. The exhibition is open from 8.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, and 9am to 4.30pm at weekends.  

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